Posted by Steve Lettau on Mar 12, 2020

Editor's Note: This is the fifth annual appearance of What It’s Like, a proven favorite with readers inside and outside Rotary. - The Rotarian

Linda Mulhern - Rotary Club of St. Paul, Minnesota

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1975. At the time, my doctor told me that I had 20 years to live and that if I didn’t take care of myself, I’d be six feet under. I was 12.

I remember the tears in my grandmother’s eyes when she came to see me at the hospital. She grew up before insulin treatments were developed in the 1920s, so she remembered the days when kids who were diagnosed with diabetes died. Doctors couldn’t do anything for them.

My mother was a nurse and was very matter-of-fact when it came to managing the disease. She made sure I knew it was my responsibility to take my insulin, watch my diet, and exercise. She was there if I needed her, but I was responsible for managing my health. She made that clear.

So I made a decision. I wouldn’t let diabetes stop me. If I really did only have 20 years to live, I wanted to make them count. I played soccer and other sports, I was in the school play, I joined the speech team. But I wanted a bigger adventure, so I applied to spend my junior year of high school abroad with an international student exchange organization. But when they learned I had diabetes, they rejected me. It was too much of a risk to send a student with a chronic condition abroad.